Thursday, May 3, 2018

Faith 5, Part 4: Praying for one another

Philippians 4:4-7
John 15:1-8

            Here’s a secret for you. The choir – up there in the choir loft – doesn’t just sing.  
            On Wednesday when they come, they do practice the songs and they learn the piece they will sing. But, they do something else, too. They pray.  
            Now sometimes they pray by singing – because some of the songs we sing actually ARE prayers…. Songs like “Spirit of God, Descend upon my Heart” or “Open the Eyes of my Heart Lord” --- actually many of our songs are prayers. 
             But that’s not what I mean.  At the end of our rehearsals, we have a devotion, and we ask for prayer requests, and we pray together.  
            We pray for one another. And – here’s another secret – it’s not just me doing the praying.  
            There’s a small group of us who take turns taking the prayer concerns and praying for each other.  

            So – We are on step four of the Faith 5 – PRAYER.   
            First we learned how important it is to share with one another our highs and lows, to share the concerns of our hearts, to build community in our families and in our congregation.  
            Then in step two, we learned to share scripture, share the Word of God with one another.  A verse a day, a story a week.  The word of God grounds us and helps us remember who we are.  
            Then we talk about it – we talk about Scripture and relate it to our lives.  And then finaly – well, almost finally, because there is one more step after this – finally, we pray together.  We pray for one another.  We pray WITH one another.  

            And prayer is so foundational for us – it’s one of the first things we learn, isn’t it?   
            When we baptize a child, as ask the parents and godparents to teach their children, “The Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.”  
            Prayer is first – not just the Lord’s prayer, but prayer in general.  Prayers at bedtime.  Prayers around the table, before we eat.  And in some ways it’s so easy, and in some ways it’s not.  

            What is prayer? There are all kinds of methods – and all kinds of ways to pray.  There are written-down prayers like we have in our worship book.  
            And there is the “five finger prayer” that I taught the children this morning.  
            Prayers can be beautiful and poetic, or they can be simple.    Author Anne Lamott said once that she really only knows three prayers – Help – Thanks – and Wow.   
            Every prayer can be reduced to one of these words.  Perhaps.

            At the heart of it, though, prayer is a conversation.  
            It is not a method, not a set of rules, but a relationship.   
            Prayer is sharing our worries, our cares, our thanks,  our joy – everything – with God.  
            And I know that many of us here have deep and rich prayer lives, and that we truly do try to take everything to God in prayer.  We pray for one another.  We pray for our children.  
            We pray for our congregation.  Maybe you even – on occasion – pray for your pastor.  
            But when I’m talking about the faith5, and the fourth step, “Prayer,” there’s this added layer, because we aren’t just praying for each other, privately, to ourselves.  It’s not like when someone says to me, after worship, “Pastor, will you pray for me,” and I promise to pray for them, and then I go home and pray.  
            This is when – as families, or with friends – we don’t just pray for each other, but we pray with each other too.     
            In choir, in our families, parents and children, in Bible study – we listen to one another’s joys and one another’s concerns, and then we pray.  And in that way, prayer binds us to God – and it binds us to one another. 

            Just as it takes trust to share with one another – it also takes trust to pray for one another -- 
            So one of the things I used to do with self-conscious students was to invite them just to say a word, or a name 
            – just to name a name of someone they were concerned about, or to say a word that named something they were thinking about – that’s the way we started, so that we could get used to hearing the sound of our own names, and know it was okay to speak.  
            Later on, we’d share more deeply, and pray more deeply as well – sharing secrets about friends we were concerned about, about the causes that gave our lives meaning.  

            So – right now, I’d like to try something – something small. 
             I’d like everyone here to think of a name.  Think of a name of someone you would like to pray for, for whatever reason.  Close your eyes and say that name to yourself.  
            Does everyone have a name?  Now – we are all going to say our names aloud – at the same time -- .  When I give the cue – Let us pray.  Gracious God, today we pray for…. (say the names.)  Hold them all in the palm of your hands.  Keep them and heal them and guide them, and do for them what is wise and compassionate.  AMEN.

            So – it is part of the forming of community to pray – and to share prayer.  
            To share the intercessions as we do on Sunday morning --  to share prayers of thanksgiving and praise – to share our confessions and failings – the hardest things, perhaps.  
            But it’s part of how we become community, Christian community – not just here, but in our homes, and among our friends, and in the world.   
            And praying together, and praying for one another strengthens our faith, helps our children have confidence in their praying, and strengthens our community too.  

            But I do have to add one thing – I don’t want to sweep anything under the carpet, in order to paint a rosy picture of praying.  
            And that’s the subject of prayers which are not answered, or not in the way we want.  
            And sooner or later, especially if we are learning to pray honestly, sooner or later that is going to happen to us.  And we have to be honest – that prayer is a great and intimate conversation, and that God guides us through prayer, and that we can come to God with anything – ANYTHING 
            – but what do we say when God doesn’t give us the answer – or the answer we want?  Especially, what do we say to a child?  
            But not just children… right?  We can come to God with ANYTHING, but sometimes, even though God loves us, the thing we think is best doesn’t happen, and we can’t understand.  
            We just have to keep believing that God loves us and will be with us, no matter what…. 

            And keep praying.  There’s a promise for us in the gospel reading today, that I think has to do with prayer.  
            Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches.” That means that always and always, he is holding on to us.  
             He is holding on to us, and because he is the vine, he is giving us his life.  That means that even our prayers, in the end, come from him.       And because he is the vine, and YOU ALL – are the branches, that means that our relationship with God is never just one to one.   
            We’re always praying together, even when we are alone.  
            Prayer bonds us to the one who has given us life – prayer bonds us to Jesus – but it bonds us to one another in the vine too
             – whether we are certain or doubting, whether we are young or old, no matter where we are in the body, we are bound together in Jesus, the vine.



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